Iced Lebanese cucumber soup with prawns

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large cucumber, peeled,de-seeded and flesh diced small (keep all peel, seeds and reserve in a bowl)
A little salt
200ml chicken stock, made from
a cube (the soup is best made with this rather than the proper stuff, in fact), then chilled
150ml plain yoghurt
150ml tomato passata
75ml whipping cream
2tbspn chopped mint
1 mild green chilli, de-seeded and
very finely chopped (optional)
275g-300g whole, shell-on prawns, heads removed and peeled (discard debris)
A touch of paprika, to serve

Method

Mix the diced cucumber with a little salt (only as much as if to lightly season) and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes or so. Put the reserved cucumber peel and seeds with the stock and process in a liquidiser (or use a stick blender) until nearly smooth, but with bits remaining visible. Pass this through a fine sieve into a bowl. Whisk in the yoghurt, passata, cream, mint and the chilli, if using. Finally, tip in the peeled prawns and diced cucumber, stir in and season to taste. Cover and put in the fridge for at least two hours before ladling into chilled soup bowls. Lightly sprinkle with paprika and serve forthwith.

Panzanella
Serves 4

I know that purists will often insist that only stale bread and tomatoes, with a touch of garlic, basil, vinegar and plenty of fruity olive oil are the only ingredients needed for a true, Tuscan panzanella. However, I really think the flavour of cucumber is an important inclusion for its fresh, summery taste-and I’m not alone here. Some thinly-sliced onions also add savour. Note: unless you have some stale bread already to hand, begin the recipe two days in advance.

Ingredients

4 thick slices of country bread (or sourdough), torn into large chunks and left to stale for
a couple of days
1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthways and de-seeded
6 large, ripe tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 large red (or pink) onion, thinly sliced
Sea salt
2-3tbspn red-wine vinegar, or to taste
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
About 6-7tbspn finest olive oil
About 20 leaves of fresh basil

Method

Cut the cucumber into small chunks and place in a colander. Sprinkle with sea salt just to lightly season and leave to drain for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, core the tomatoes, put into a bowl and cover with boiling water from a kettle. Count to 10, and then drain.

Once cooled a little, slip off their skins, cut into large chunks and place in a large salad bowl. Stir in the garlic, onions, vinegar and black pepper. Finally, also stir in the drained cucumber and leave to macerate for 10 minutes. Taste the assembly and add salt to taste.

Now dress with 4-5 tablespoons of the olive oil, tip in the bread and turn everything together; I use my hands as the best implements for the job, here. Leave to soak for five minutes, or so, then taste once more.

Finally, tear up the basil leaves, mix in and then trickle a little more oil over the surface. Serve without delay, so that the bread doesn’t become completely soggy; a touch of crunch within is how I like it.

A simple cucumber salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cucumbers, peeled
1 level tbspn Maldon sea salt
1tbspn smooth Dijon mustard
1tspn red wine vinegar
Freshly ground white pepper
4tbspn sunflower oil
2tbspn olive oil
A trickle of hot water
1tbspn snipped chives

Method

Cut the cucumbers in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Now, thinly slice the cucumber halves, spread them out onto a work surface and sprinkle evenly with the sea salt. Mess them around a bit with your hands until the salt has been well distributed, pile them into a colander and set over a bowl to allow excess liquid to leech out of the cucumber. Allow about 30-40 minutes, for this, then tip out onto a tea towel and pat dry.

To make the dressing, put the mustard, vinegar and pepper into a roomy bowl and whisk together. Mix the oils together in a jug and, continuing to whisk, slowly incorporate them into the mustard mixture. As it begins to thicken, add a touch of hot water to loosen the dressing and continue to add a touch more oil.

Once it’s of a coating consistency and the taste is harmonious (it should be a touch sharp-at least for me), tip in the cucumber and chives then gently, but thoroughly, mix together. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes until cool. Divide between four pretty plates and serve at once.

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